Getting ready for Yakimon Matsuri

This Golden Week (4/28 – 5/6) is the 6th annual pottery festival in Karatsu. It is always fun to show and sell, but getting ready can be a pretty busy time. 

This year I want to show some new designs, items I’ve never made before and/or sizes I don’t normally make. I’ve made some pedestal platters, coffee droppers, and a style of tokkuri that was popular at a show this last fall.  The general theme will revolve around rim carving and brush decoration of shrimp, and English letters written to look like Japanese kana script. 

Many people tend to think that Japanese dishes are small and numerous, and this is not incorrect, but for home use a popular size is a bit larger, around 7-8 inches (7 sun) or even a bit larger. I find that dishes this size get the most use around our house as well. 

Here’s the damage from this afternoon:

Carved rims
Waiting to be carved
Various 24cm plates
Shrimp chopstick rests

Firing for anyone

In Japan, people often visit pottery studios for a short pottery experience, either painting something or making something small to be glazed and fired later by the studio owner or a craftsman. This has always seemed so limited to me, and the inevitable comment, “Oh, you are so lucky, I wish I could do this every day!” always prompts my response: “Yes, me too!”. Most people just don’t have any idea what goes into a finished pot. Turning it on the wheel is maybe 10% of the overall process, much less if you gather materials yourself and/or wood fire  your work. And customers rarely see the failures, or all the polishing that goes into a piece and assume the potter just opens  the kiln door to a batch of warm, super looking, ready to sell pots.

Finding a way for people to experience more of pottery making is a challenge, because of the time it takes drying, bisqueing, firing, and waiting to cool down. Raku firing abbreviates this a lot, but still requires a lot of specialized equipment in most cases. Shichirin fired pottery, for me, is a good way for anyone to have a firing experience, including the excitement of the fire, the engagement with the work, the post fire polishing and critiquing, and even the failures and serendipitous successes.

Lately I’ve been working on a firing method that is accessible to everyone, with items available at most home centers. I got this idea years ago when a Japanese potter named Yoshida (don’t remember his first name) made a splash by introducing “Shichirin Togei”, which used a  small Japanese BBQ, called a shichirin, to fire small objects. This developed into a book called Minigama, which I never read, but outlines the construction of small handbuilt kilns from fireclay and fired with wood, charcoal, and forced air. I think the book is out of print now.

I liked the idea of shichirin togei, but thought the open shichirin was maybe not so efficient at getting up to temp, so I added another one on top, like a clamshell, with both shichirin wadded together with a coil of clay. The bottom damper is the air port, and the top damper is the chimney opening and stoke hole.

You start by packing some charcoal into the bottom of the chamber, around a stilt on which the pot will sit. Then place the pot on the stilt and continue covering with charcoal. Then place a coil of soft clay around the mouth of the shichirin, and overturn the second shichirin over it.

Now that that is done, time for the fun to start! Use a hand torch to light charcoal, then use a hair dryer to get things burning hot.

Now just wait for things to heat up, it will take a few minutes, after which flames will start to emerge from the top damper hole.

This flame should continue to grow and get jumpy, making noise as unburnt gases from inside the chamber exit and combust when they meet more oxygen.  Keep slowly adding pieces of charcoal from the top stoke hole (damper), keep that flame extended. As it gets nice and hot, you’ll be able to tell how the kiln breathes every time you put in a piece of charcoal, and you’ll get a sense of when to stoke.

The first firing might take about 45 minutes, because of the time to heat everything up. From the second firing, 30 minutes seems to be enough to fire the clay. If you have time, you can go longer, and ash from the charcoal will leave more green ‘glaze’ on the surface of the pot.

…a new floor!

(You have to read the title in your inner Bob Barker voice for the desired effect)

I had a pile of planks laying around that I’d received for free and intended to burn in the kiln, but they turned out to be covered in mud and I didn’t want to clean each one by hand just to toss them in the fire. 

They are nice thick pine planks, and I had this sudden inspiration to make a raised floor for the new studio storage area. It was a very good feeling to have a pile of trash disappear as a new floor emerged! Quick, easy, and free. How often does that happen?


I still have shorter pieces left, and will use them to fill in the still open triangle on the right side. 

1.3kg Bowls

Something I’d been putting off lately was making larger work, but i decidied it was time to warm up to it, so threw these the other morning. Figuring I could kill two birds at the same time, I made half into grinding mortars, and half as noodle bowls. These all came to 26cm wide wet, and have already shrunk down to 24cm, not even dry yet. After they are dry, I’ll knock off all the crumbs from the comb marks. If you do it wet, it turns into a lumpy mess. 

Next I’ll move up to 2kg bowls, then 3. 

Fall firing 2016

Open comments and notes

Front came out beautifully, mid stack as well, rear a little cool. Very top of front, mid, and rear were cold. Shelf config caused this, I think, because of the large shelves being close together, creating strata in the heat gradient. The very front shelf with guinomi and chawan was the main culprit, blocking the flame from rising, and directing it under the large shelves placed midway up the front stack. 

In the future I need to stagger the shelf levels during stacking, to allow the flame to travel upward.  Also, block some of the floor level flue channels at the rear of the chamber. Make sure upper flues are fully open. 

Front cones are 9, 10, 11, 12 Orton. 



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